Roy Rogers’s Happy Trails for 2023—the King of the Cowboys Has a Few Suggestions

From a Wall Street Journal commentary by Bob Greene headlined “Roy Rogers’s Happy Trails for 2023”:

As we start the new year with well-intentioned resolutions, there’s a voice from the past we may want to heed: Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys.

Between action-packed chases on his golden palomino, Trigger, and fistfights with bad guys on dusty Western streets, I’ve been struck by the wisdom he managed to slip into his episodes during the early days of television. Boys and girls who watched the wildly popular “Roy Rogers Show” from 1951-57, or modern viewers who come across cable reruns, may have been unaware of how diligent Roy was about artfully inserting a life lesson into each day’s story.

His words (in a strangely Midwestern accent for a cowboy—he was born in Cincinnati) bear listening to. In an episode called “Uncle Steve’s Finish,” Roy—with his Arnold Palmer squint that predated Palmer—tells a boy that it’s dangerous to idolize flashy hucksters: “Joey here found out that there’s the wrong kind of hero worship, and that his father the schoolteacher is a much better man than his uncle the outlaw.”

On “M Stands for Murder,” Roy, catching a thief, explains how avarice can ruin a person: “He didn’t want some money. He wanted all of it. You know, that’s the funny thing about greed. It sort of grows on you. It starts out when you’re young by wanting somebody’s baseball bat or football that doesn’t belong to you, then later on wanting somebody’s job. First thing you know, you’re wanting everything in sight.”

The beauty of how Roy worked these lessons into the episodes is that they went down smoothly—they never interrupted the plot. In “Quick Draw,” a man hesitates to shoot, then laments that he must be a coward. Roy tells him: “You’re not a coward. You just won a great victory over yourself. Maybe now you’ll know what guns are really for. To protect, not to kill.”

In “The Scavenger,” Roy teaches the value of charity. He tells a miser: “The church needs a new steeple and the school could use a new library. . . . Wouldn’t you rather that people remember Mose as the grand old man whose money did so much for the town?”

Occasionally it seems that Roy’s messages may be ad-libbed. In “Big Chance,” when Roy’s comical sidekick, Pat Brady, is putting on a slapstick Shakespeare recital for Roy and Roy’s wife, Dale Evans, Pat emotes: “To be, or not to be—that is the question.” Roy instantly interjects that the question is eternal: “It always has been, Pat. To be on the side of justice and the law, or to be against everything that’s honorable.”

There were 100 episodes of “The Roy Rogers Show,” and if you listen carefully you will find the stuff of New Year’s resolutions in each of them—on everything from neighborliness, to not judging people by their appearance, to refraining from spreading hurtful rumors. As 2023 begins, here is my fervent wish for you, and for all of us—a sentiment that Roy, who died in 1998, summed up perfectly in two words:

Happy trails.

Bob Greene’s books include “And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship.”

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